Food Consumption Surveys

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FOOD CONSUMPTION SURVEYS. Food consumption surveyssometimes referred to as food intake surveys or dietary surveysmonitor food use by data collection at three different levels. On the national level, food availability may be described by supply data such as food balance sheets. These results express food availability rather than food consumption in a nation and are not further discussed here. The second type of food consumption survey measures food use within a household, and the third type assesses individual intake of foods and beverages. These latter two survey types collect information on kinds, amounts, and frequencies of food consumption and occasionally on expenditure for food purchases. Furthermore, these surveys include information on factors influencing food intake patterns such as socioeconomic criteria, food perceptions, and beliefs.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the investigation of food consumption patterns became necessary in order to identify inadequate and insufficient diets in parts of the population. This was especially important among urban industrial workers for whom mass production of food was needed because they no longer had ready access to farm produce. The first small-scale studies were carried out in different countries. As the number of participants in such surveys increased, the scope widened to include health issues related to food consumption. To gain up-to-date information, these surveys were repeated on a regular basis. Advanced sampling techniques enabled researchers to design representative surveys.

Methods and materials of data collection are selected in accordance with the objectives of the survey. If the household is the focus, food inventories and household accounts are used to collect data on present food use, while food-list recalls monitor food use in the past. Food consumed outside of the home and the food distribution among household members are not assessed. Results are expressed in quantities of food consumed, expenditures for food purchases, and energy or nutrient availability per household. Comparisons of food availability in households among different communities or socioeconomic groups can be made. Dietary changes in a total population or subgroups of a population can be investigated.

The method for assessing individuals' dietary intake is the food record. Quantities are either accurately weighed or estimated by household measures. The twenty-four-hour recall assesses food intake during the previous day while diet histories focus on usual dietary patterns in the past. Food Frequencies Questionnaires (FFQ) ask how often food items are usually consumed within a defined period. The questionnaires and the diet histories focus on long-term subjective perception while food records and twenty-four-hour recalls are suitable for investigating absolute or relative nutrient intakes of groups and individuals.

Dietary assessment methods
Method Period Features
Food record Present diet Quantities and kinds of foods
   Time and location of consumption
   Presence of fellow eaters
Twenty-four-hour recall Last 24 hours Quantities and kinds of foods
   Time and location of consumption
   Presence of fellow eaters
Diet history Last month(s) Meals usually consumed
   Dishes and foods usually consumed
Food frequency questionnaire Last weeks or months Food list provided
   Frequency of consumption of food items
   Quantities, e.g., portion sizes

With assistance from food composition tables or data banks, energy and nutrient intakes are estimated. Thus quantities and qualities of diets as well as nutrient intakes of groups or individuals are monitored. Some surveys focus on specific target groupsfor example, age groups (such as infants or elderly persons) or individuals with particular diets, conditions, or diseases such as pregnancy or diabetes, or on selected food groups (for example, fruits and vegetables).

Food and nutritional planning on the national or international level is based on these data sources, as are estimates of the adequacy of dietary intakes of population groups. The development and evaluation of educational programs is based on these results. The relationship of diet and health status as well as estimates of average intakes of additives and contaminants are other important issues.

The main limitation of food consumption surveys is that they depend on accurate report or recall of food quantity and type by the participants in the study. The quality of nutrient and energy values depends on the quality and accuracy of food consumption tables.

See also Dietary Assessment ; Intake .


Bingham, Sheila A. "Limitations of the Various Methods for Collecting Dietary Intake Data." Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 35 (1991): 117127.

Cameron, Margaret E., and Wija A. van Staveren, eds. Manual of Methodology for Food Consumption Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

FAO/WHO. Preparation and Use of Food-Based Dietary Guidelines : Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Consultation. WHO Technical Series 880. Geneva: World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1998. Chapter 3 gives a general description of methodological aspects of food surveys.

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Thompson, Frances E., and Tim Byers. "Dietary Assessment Resource Manual." Journal of Nutrition 124 (1994): 2245S2317S.

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. The Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health: Summary and Recommendations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988.

Welten, Desiree C., Ruth A. Carpenter, R. Sue McPherson, Suzanne Brodney, Deirdre Douglass, James B. Kampert, and Steven N. Blair. "Comparison of a Dietary Record Using Reported Portion Size versus Standard Portion Size for Assessing Nutrient Intake." Public Health Nutrition 3 (2000): 151158.

Winkler, Gertrud. Validierung einer Food-Frequency Erhebung. Ph.D. diss., Technical University of Munich, 1992. In German.

Simone Meyer

Food Consumption Surveys in the United States

Since the 1930s, food consumption surveys have been carried out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). After small-scale studies, nationwide monitoring began in the 1950s. In 1955 the Household Food Consumption Survey, which was first based on a representative sample of households, was initiated. The survey investigated food use on the household level. Beginning in 1965, a component of individual dietary assessment has been included in the National Food Surveys. Since 1985, household consumption has been replaced by the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals, which is based on dietary assessment through twenty-four-hour dietary recalls. Since the late 1980s, food surveys have been combined with the Diet and Health Knowledge Behavior Survey (DHKS). Knowledge and attitudes toward diet as well as dietary behavior are assessed to improve understanding of individual dietary patterns.